Silver Springs

Ocala, FL – May, 2018 The time finally came in the middle of May to leave Florida and slowly make our way to Missouri. We covered Bella and got her secured on her boat lift, closed up the house, loaded up the 5th wheel, and hit the road. Our first stop was Ocala, a five hour drive north.

A couple months ago, I read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Wandering Dawgs, titled Historic Silver Springs. As soon as I read that their were wild monkeys in the park I knew we HAD to go. We have joked for years that what Florida needs is wild monkeys to make it really interesting. It has giant snakes, alligators, and crocs. Monkeys would fit right in!

We weren’t sure exactly what day we were leaving Goodland so we couldn’t make a reservation very far in advance. By the time we were sure of our departure date I could only get a rez for 2 nights, a Wednesday and Thursday. We’d have to vamoose on Friday.

The wet season had officially hit Florida that same week. We luckily avoided most of the storms (or they wisely avoided us) during the day’s drive. We got to Silver Springs State Park campground around 2 and just finished setting up when we heard the rain coming and made it indoors just in time.

Just before dinner the rain let up for a bit. We got the bikes out and road all the campground loops until another line of storms rolled in and chased us home. We had a great dinner waiting in the crockpot so we settled in to watch a movie.

The next morning until 11 was the only window of time that the weather guessers said we’d have a better chance of staying dry than being drenched. We planned to cram as much exploring in before lunch as possible. The campground is a few miles from the main entrance to the park. We road our bikes on the sidewalk beside the highway to the spring’s entrance.

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We locked up the bikes outside the admission gates and flashed our Florida State Park Pass to the gate attendant to avoid the $2 per person fee.

We walked around the grounds. The boat tours didn’t start for an hour so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. I love this structure with its many gables and stained glass.

The main spring was amazing. It was 30 feet deep and so incredibly clear you could watch the anhinga dive down and catch fish.

The glass bottom boats do look really cool. Next time …

There were lovely flowers everywhere. This bloom was as big as my head.

We used to have these growing in our back yard in Missouri. They are exquisite.

We followed the path along the water keeping an eye out for wildlife. Jim spotted these babies and called them ducklings. But I wondered if they were ducks or the offspring of the group of anhinga fishing in the background.

Upon further inspection of the pictures when I got home I realized there was actually a wood duck among the adult birds and these were obviously her ducklings. I was crushed that I didn’t notice her and get a clear shot. I have always wanted to see a wood duck and didn’t recognize what was right in front of me.

There were huge fish jumping ridiculously high all along this stretch water. You can barely see one of them jumping on the left of this photo.

We made our way back past the main spring and wandered over to the boardwalk trail. The surroundings were very jungle like.  Those monkeys wouldn’t have looked at all out of place there.

We moseyed down the boardwalk and met a nice lady walking two adorable dogs. She commented that the water was a little murky because of the previous day’s rain. We couldn’t imagine how it could be any clearer.

Since she was obviously a regular we asked her if she had ever seen monkeys from the boardwalk. She told us that she had once, about a year ago, and she hoped to never repeat the experience. She said that several adolescent males were on the bridge over the river and one of them made several aggressive advances toward her before she could get away.

We continued on along the boardwalk keeping our eyes to the trees, just in case.  I did see a beautiful woodpecker. He was having his way with this log lying on the ground. You can see from the holes in it that he is a regular.

I was struggling to get a better shot with all the greenery around him. He must have sensed my frustration. He jumped up to a nearby tree and poised beautifully for me just before I walked away.

We left the boardwalk and continued along the river to the kayak launch. Their kayak rentals are pretty reasonable and we definitely would have gone that route if the weather would have cooperated. You can also launch your own kayak here for a small fee. We talked to the guys collecting the launch fees and they said that if we kayaked the river we’d have about a 50/50 shot of seeing the monkeys.

We also discussed hiking trails with them and made the decision to hike back to camp and drive back to collect the bikes later. We headed down the trail and didn’t make it very far before we met this black racer.

He was just off the trail and he made his presence known by waving his skinny little tale at us and bobbing his head ferociously. We scooted right past him to a safe distance so I could get the shot.

After that we had an uneventful 2 and a half mile walk through the woods with only a few butterflies to keep us company. We were very attentive to our surroundings, keeping an eye to the trees (ever the optimists) and also watching the ground for snakes. We saw lots of signs of critters: deer tracks, gopher tortoise holes, scratch marks where something dug for food.  But it was just us and the trees for most of an hour.

We had hoped that we might have another rain free hour later that afternoon so we could explore more of the trails in the campground but we did not. It started raining at noon and never let up. So we kept busy finally putting everything away in the trailer, puttering on projects, and writing this post.

The campground is really awesome. The sites are huge and wooded. We loved our full hookup pull thru site, number 2.  It came to almost $30 per night after taxes and fees.

I wonder how many more times we would have driven right past this gem of a park had I not been lucky enough to read Wandering Dawgs’ account of it. If you want more info on the park her post is a good read. She also has great pictures and has actually seen the monkeys! We’ll get ’em next time!

Return to Shark Valley

Marco Island, FL – April, 2018 Jim has been wanting a recumbent bike for many years and the last couple he has been actively looking for a used one. He wasn’t willing to pay much over $500 and he was pretty picky about the style of recumbent. He hadn’t seen a single one for sale that met his criteria and was even worth test driving until now.

I saw a bike in his price range that looked like what he wanted on Facebook Marketplace when we were in the Keys. He looked the model up online and it had great reviews and seemed to be exactly what he had been looking for. It was in Key West which we were planning to visit that week anyway. We made arrangements to see it, rode it up and down their street, and finalized the deal for only $400.

We took it back to Fiesta Key and took turns riding it around the RV park the next few mornings. It was everything he hoped. It was easy on his knees and back which is what has kept him from enjoying biking for many years now. What he got was The Rover by TerraTrike. They start around $1100 new and his bike would have cost about $1500 with all the extra options it included. Here’s a pic I borrowed from their website.

He’s owned it a bit over a month now and is loving it. We’ve been riding almost every day. We generally ride a minimum of 5 miles, 7 to 9 miles is not unusual, and our longest ride has been 15. So what, you may ask am I riding.

We had a couple of cruisers we had picked up at a garage sale last season and they were fine for riding around Goodland but not what I’d like to spend hours on. I had some idea of what I wanted and after a little internet research I found it in what they call a crossover or hybrid bike. I wanted to sit upright on a comfortable seat like the cruiser, but I also wanted some gears.

I did not want to spend a lot of money either. If we ended up riding a lot then I could always upgrade to a better quality bike later. Most of the bikes I saw online that fit my criteria were around $250 but I finally found this one for under $150 at Walmart and the reviews were pretty good. It was in stock near our home so we picked it up the next week and I have been extremely happy with it.

My most common form of exercise up to this point is a three mile walk. If I walk every single public street in Goodland it adds up to just over 3 miles. So I have walked every street over and over during the last 6 months. I enjoy these walks and usually see something new each time. I really enjoy walking very early in the morning because there is hardly anyone out and about before 9.

There is a nice, paved walking/biking path from town, along Goodland Drive that leads to the highway. I usually don’t include this path in my morning walks but if we ride every single street in town and take the path to the highway we can get just over a 5 mile ride. Our typical ride looks something like this.

There isn’t much elevation gain on the city streets and only about a 10 foot rise in elevation from town to the highway. So to add a challenge I’ve been turning onto the highway and peddling to the top of the bridge. There is very little traffic in the mornings and there is a very wide shoulder.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how hard it is for me to get up there. But with the exception of my first attempt, I have made it every time without stopping (even though Jim said it looked like I was going so slow near the top that he was afraid I might fall over).

Jim has started joining me on the bridge. He’s at a disadvantage on the recumbent because he can’t put his weight into it. It’s all legwork for him whereas I can stand up if the going gets tough. He also has much smaller wheels but the same number of gears as me. Our goal for next season is to be able to go all the way over the bridge and then back up over it thereby adding two climbs to our usual ride.

Whether I walk 3 miles or ride 5 miles, it’s about 50 minutes of exercise and I’m burning a similar number of calories. Of course, that is the minimum amount of exercise I try to fit in most days (try being the operative word). The bikes are making it easier to reach that goal and also helping us do more than the minimum.

Jim often walks with me but walking up and down the same streets just doesn’t appeal to him. He enjoys biking them so much more. And it is much easier to exercise every day when you’ve got someone that’s excited to exercise with you.

Also when biking we create our own breeze. Therefore we are willing to bicycle when it is too hot to walk. And we can bike when there are some bugs about without being feasted on as we would if we were walking.

It’s a lot more interesting to ride somewhere new so a couple times a week we’ve been loading the bikes up and going in search of new trails. Luckily we have some great options in this area. One of our favorite trails is the Gordon River Greenway in Naples.

It has several parking areas but our favorite place to start is by the Naples Airport. There is a park there beside the runway and they have a platform where you can watch planes come and go and even listen to the tower on a loudspeaker. You never know what you might see there.

Then you can ride about a 5 mile loop that swings past the Naples Zoo and crisscrosses the Gordon River.

If you want to wrack up more miles you can add 5 by continuing past the parking lot and all the way around the airport and back.

One goal we set when we started riding was to return to Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park and ride its 15 mile loop before we left Florida for the season. Four weeks after we bought Jim’s bike we did just that.

They don’t open the gates until 8:30 so we arrived just after that time on a Monday morning. It was already 78 degrees out so we hustled to get on the trail which begins along the canal. We weren’t very far along before we were swarmed by bugs and I started to wonder what we were getting in to. There were a variety of buzzy things but the most annoying was the biting flies. Luckily that was the worst area we went through and it got better as we rode on.

During our last visit we hadn’t seen any bugs but we anticipated there being some this time and were wearing bug spray. Jim is usually the one the bugs love most so he had applied it more liberally than I did and surprise, surprise they didn’t bother him nearly as much as me. Unfortunately, when we stopped so I could apply more the can ran dry. Lesson for the day: always carry spare bug repellent in the Everglades.

The bugs were just bad enough that I didn’t want to stop to take pictures for fear of being swarmed. So we put the first 5 miles behind us pretty fast. As we were nearing the observation tower at mile 6 I finally got it out in hopes of seeing the crocodile that we saw last time. She must have been sleeping late as she did not make an appearance this day. There were plenty of alligators though.

And there were quite a few birds, although not as many as in April.

We climbed the tower and lingered there for a while. It was cooler up there and shady. There were no bugs and very few people. And it was nice not to be rushed as we had been when we took the tram tour last time.

There were tons of alligators in the pool below the tower this time and we had seen very few here during our last visit.

We finally drug ourselves away when the first tram tour of the day arrived to break our peace and quiet. We still had 9 miles to go.

The park prefers you ride the whole route counter clockwise, opposite of the trams which are the only other traffic allowed. We could have returned by the same route if we had needed to thereby reducing the day’s total miles to 12. But we were feeling pretty good and up to the challenge.

As we road on we found out why the alligators were now at the pond under the observation tower. The area that had been covered in water during our April visit was now mostly dry. We still saw a few smaller gators and several babies around the drainage ditches where the last of the water remained. There were some larger ponds, mostly a ways from the road.

The good news was that there were far fewer bugs on this side of the park. Unfortunately there was also zero shade. We got lucky and had some occasional cloud cover on the return trip but if we stopped we lost our breeze and it was too hot to stay long. We had intended to make it a leisurely day trip. We had brought a lunch and plenty of water. Instead we pressed on and finished in just over one and a half hours not counting our intermission at the tower.

We are looking forward to taking our bikes on the road with us this summer. Jim found us a rack for the RV that will carry them both. We are already planning our route and stops based on finding good bike paths.

Diving the Keys

Florida Keys – April, 2018 Jim and I are working through a short bucket list of items we want to do before leaving Florida for the summer. Diving in the Keys was at the top of that list. We still can’t believe we were nearing the end of our second season down here and hadn’t been diving at all.

We were optimistic that now that the high season was waning we could find a campsite in the Keys. We did, at Fiesta Key RV Resort, between Islamorada and Marathon. Even with a Passport America discount for the first two nights, the cost averaged $80 per night, but it was well worth it. The resort was surrounded by beautiful, clear water. It had a very nice pool we never used because there was a great ocean swim area. Most importantly, it was still half the cost of the cheapest hotel room we could find and we got to sleep in our own bed.

We drove down on Sunday and dove Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon off Islamorada. The first day we made two dives to an average depth of 50 feet. The coral wasn’t much to look at, it was more like rubble, but the sea life was astounding. We saw eels galore, a turtle, lionfish; all on the first dive.

Our second dive seemed a bit like a bust with not nearly as much to see. That is until the halfway point when the dive guide turned us back toward the boat. Jim and I were in the back of the pack as usual and a big nurse shark came straight at me.

I banged on my tank with the pointer I carry to get Jim’s attention so he wouldn’t miss it. The shark seemed interested in me and kept heading my way. I thought it might come up and give me a kiss so I kept my pointer aimed at it in case I needed to poke it in the eye to make it clear I was not that kind of girl!

It veered away just a few feet from me and kept cruising the reef. A few minutes later another, larger nurse shark came flying past. On the way back to the boat we spotted a nurse shark a total of 4 times. We assume there were just 2 sharks but there could have been more.

I chose not to take a camera with me that first day of diving so I have no evidence of these encounters. It had been over two years since our last dives in Cozumel therefore I thought it would be a good idea to concentrate on my diving and not be distracted by my camera. I had a new underwater camera I was dying to try though.

I had been struggling with the idea of buying a new underwater camera. I had a waterproof housing for my Sony and we owned a SeaLife DC600. But honestly I was floored by how great Jim’s underwater pics were turning out with his old GoPro in its waterproof case.

We stopped in a dive shop in Panama City on our way into Florida last fall and they showed me the Intova X2. It is similar to the GoPro but is waterproof without an extra case and has some built in filters and lighting options. It cost around $500.

I took it on our Wednesday afternoon dives and although I’m still getting used to the settings, I am really pleased with its performance. Usually in underwater photography close proximity to the subject is the key to any decent shot. But this camera takes some amazingly clear photos at a distance. Like this one of our dive leader joining us in the water. I took it from the bottom, 30 feet below.

Wednesday’s dive sites were teeming with fish.

Both sites had beautiful hard and soft corals and were relatively shallow at around 30 feet or less.

I may not be able to capture all the colors of the ocean with this little camera yet but I like the simplicity of it. This pufferfish is blotchy brown so it captured it perfectly, even if you can’t tell that some of the fans surrounding it were beautiful shades of purple.

It also flawlessly captured this black and gold french angelfish.

The highlight of the day was this gorgeous turtle who didn’t seem to mind the half dozen divers hovering around him.

The Florida Keys offer almost as good a diving experience as we’ve found anywhere in our dive travels. The dive trips are reasonably priced as well at $85 each. We do not intend to let another 2 years go by before going again.

On one of our non-diving days we drove 65 miles south to Key West. The drive was nice and there were a couple of places we wanted to see there. We had spent a long weekend in Key West in 2009 so we weren’t completely unfamiliar with the area.

First stop was the Key West Cemetery. You know we love cemeteries, the older the better, and we had somehow missed this one on our first visit. This cemetery was established in 1847, on the highest natural elevation in Key West, after the previous cemetery was destroyed by a hurricane. The cemetery is 19 acres so it made for a nice morning walk.

Jim had read that there were several humorous headstones with sayings like “I told you I was sick” and “I always dreamed of owning a small place in Key West.” He had also read to watch out for iguanas. We walked the aisles, he looking for interesting headstones, while I watched out for big slithery things.

The day was warming up so I had better luck than Jim did.

Despite some intelligence on where these humorous headstones were supposed to be, he never did find one.

Another thing we didn’t find was a parking space anywhere close to our next point of interest. After driving the narrow streets in our big truck looking for one, we got a bit fed up and decided we’d save that destination for our next visit because we know we’ll be back. We had been considering lunch downtown as well but instead we turned our carriage toward camp and found an awesome seafood place called the Square Grouper on our way home along the Overseas Highway.

Entertaining Guests

Goodland, FL – February to Mid-March, 2018 We took our last guest to the airport and said goodbye on Tuesday. We had houseguests for 5 of the last 6 weeks. We spent our days planning the next meal, provisioning (keeping gas in the boat, groceries in the house, and beer in the cooler), and boating.

We took a boat trip just about every day we had company. Our neighbor took this picture of us leaving one day.

We usually headed to one of several beaches that are reachable only by boat. But we often fished a bit along the way. I caught my first fish in many years. The catfish aren’t supposed to be good to eat but they sure were fun to catch.

We all caught catfish that day.

Another day the mackerel were hitting. Our buddy, Terry, caught a couple spanish mackerel.

Jim got one too. We didn’t keep them either but we could have.

The dolphins were a real crowd pleaser. Until last week this is the best shot of one I had managed to get.

I finally had my camera at the ready when this pair started playing in our wake. Do you see the second one at the very bottom of the photo?

When the tides cooperated we enjoyed taking our guests on a sunset cruise.

Every sunset here is uniquely stunning.

When we weren’t boating most of our guests were content just hanging out on the dock, enjoying the Florida sunshine.

We cooked copious amounts of food and I think I consumed at least a million calories. A seafood boil (sometimes known as a low country boil or frogmore stew) is one of our favorites and was on each week’s menu. I finally remembered to snap this shot before it was all gone.

We loved every single day of it and all of our guests were dear friends or family whose company we enjoyed immensely. But we are looking forward to the next several weeks of quiet, to eating more reasonably, and getting back into our fitness routines.

Home Improvements

Goodland, FL – January, 2018 January was the coldest month we have ever spent in Florida so it wasn’t appealing to go boating very often. On a few of the nicer days we did boat out in the afternoon and start exploring our new home waters.

We spent one morning in a class offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary that was devoted to navigating the waters around Marco Island. It was extremely helpful and made us more confident about venturing to some places. We also learned of other areas with too many obstacles that we’d rather avoid.

We spent most of January finishing the projects we had planned for this season on our little house. We had several guests scheduled to visit us starting in early February. We wanted to get all our work done so we could just rest and enjoy their company when they arrived.

On all but the chilliest days the weather was pretty great for tackling outdoors jobs. It was better than our first month here when we tried to get most of our outdoor work done before 11 because it was too darn hot to do much after that. On the coldest days we concentrated on our indoor projects.

For a home that flooded during the hurricane, it had remarkably little damage. A tidal surge had swept through it and reached about ankle deep in most of the house. Apparently it exited quickly though and that prevented the damage from being worse.

The previous owner had cleaned the flood damage really well but had not removed the ruined laminate flooring that was in most of the house. When we demoed the flooring we found a lot of dust and some mud still under it. We were glad to get down to the subfloors so we could get it scrubbed clean and dried and know what we were living with. The plywood below the laminates was in extremely good shape and required no additional work.

We replaced the laminate flooring with vinyl planks. They are very similar to laminates but they are waterproof and, thankfully, they were much easier to install. They look great and are comfortable to live with and easy to keep clean.

The paneling in the master bedroom had wicked the flood water and swelled up. So we had to cut it off and replace it with wainscoting to the bottom of the window sills around the room.

We were prepared to do this in the remainder of the house to clean and disinfect any water damage in the walls. We removed several baseboards throughout the house. Remarkably we didn’t find any others where the water had gotten into the walls.

Other than that the house required very little interior work. I love the paint color the previous owner had used to paint most every surface. I was able to get a custom match at the paint store to paint the new wainscoting and touch up around the house.

Jim had to solve one major plumbing issue. The septic started backing up within a few days of us moving in. He ended up having to dig up the septic inlet and found that it was poorly designed 60 plus years ago with a 90 degree turn into the tank AND that, more recently, the inlet pipe had sunken below the inlet hole and someone had made a pretty crappy (pun intended) repair.

He did the right thing and dug up the whole area so he could raise the pipe and add several 45’s to replace the 90. He also added a cleanout which doubles as a place to dump our RV. The good news is that it didn’t end up costing much to fix. It just required several days of hard work and sweat.

We found some other poorly plumbed items in the house, like drains that were just stuck together and not even glued. But other than the plumbing, we have been extremely happy with the quality of workmanship that went into the house before we owned it, like the beautifully tiled shower.

FEMA had tarped the entire roof after Irma but there were no signs that it had actually leaked. In late December we finally removed the tarping and decided it could be repaired which was a huge relief. The before picture is of the worst half of the roof. The after picture is of the other side which had much fewer missing shingles.

We spent a good part of 3 days replacing damaged roof tabs and filling a gazillion holes from the nails used to hold the tarps down. It’s not beautiful but it hasn’t leaked and it’s such a low pitched roof you can’t see it from the ground. The color of the new tabs will eventually blend with the old as they weather.

Most of our budget and effort went into the backyard and the dock. One of the very first things we did was have a hot tub delivered. More than anything about RVing we miss our hot tub. We looked for used ones but couldn’t find a good deal so we splurged on a new, two person tub.

We covered an uneven back porch with a deck.

The palm tree scene on the left is a privacy/sun screen. The south facing back yard can get brutally hot. We recovered the old dock with new decking and enlarged it slightly.

Then we joined the two with a boardwalk and covered much of the back yard in gravel.

Finally we added some decorative lighting.

I’d guess we are about halfway done with everything we hope to accomplish on this home. But the remainder of the projects can, and likely will, wait for next season. As far as project homes go this one is probably the least amount of work of any that we have ever bought.

There are a couple things I feel obligated to pass on in case anyone is considering such an investment. First: I think it is unlikely that you could find anyone to finance such a property. Despite its upgrades, this home is essentially a very old manufactured home that does not qualify for any traditional financing.

We were lucky to have a line of credit (LOC) set up with some of our rental properties as collateral. We arranged it to finance our flip house last season and since we sold it, the LOC was just sitting there. So we were able to make a cash offer and close in two weeks.

Second: We were barely able to insure the property. At first, I wasn’t very concerned about this. The land is worth the majority of what we paid for it so if it burned to the ground we felt we could recover most of our investment anyway. Only later did it dawn on me that no insurance meant no liability insurance, now that would be just plain irresponsible to go without.

I checked with a couple local agents and it wasn’t looking very good. Thankfully I have the majority of my rental properties insured with a real estate investment group and they were finally able to cover the home with a basic policy that will cover fire and, most importantly, provide liability coverage. It does not include hurricane or flood coverages though so, fingers crossed!

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, CO – August, 2017  Everyone we know personally in the state of Florida survived Irma with no serious damage. There is widespread flooding in Bonita Springs which is heartbreaking. Nearby Naples took the brunt of Irma’s winds. They don’t expect to have power restored for another week so I imagine it is pretty miserable down there without AC and for many no water or sewer.

Our trailer park in Bonita Springs had only a few trailers blown over but for the most part is OK.   Our daughter’s trailer is safe and sound and will wait for us to arrive this fall when we can sell it. So I am grateful to get back to my tales of summer fun.

We had spent most of the month of July in Utah and at the beginning of August we crossed in to the northwest corner of Colorado. We didn’t have any solid destination or direction planned for several weeks so we set our sights on Steamboat Springs. It sounded like a neat place with lots of fun things to do.

We stayed at Eagle Soaring RV Park seven miles west of town. They were booked for the weekend so we got a spot for Wednesday and Thursday. The sites were full hookup pull thrus and were $48 per night.

We headed to town to see the sights after getting set up on Wednesday. The Yampa River runs all along the western edge of town. They have an awesome trail system called the Yampa River Core Trail which runs 7.5 miles alongside the river. We stopped and walked a couple miles on it.

We enjoyed the walk which included a couple bridges so it zigzagged back and forth across the river. We stopped at the Steamboat Springs Art Council’s Gallery located in their historic 1908 train depot. And we discovered a half dozen of the town’s 150 hot springs.

You could smell the area’s stinkiest spring, Sulphur Spring, a good ways down the path.

This is Lake Spring, a pond created a long time ago to capture several springs in one basin and in more recent history turned in to a park.

This spring flowed directly into the river.

We also took a walk in Steamboat’s downtown shopping district. There were lots of interesting buildings, fun shops, and people. It was terribly crowded.

What we learned most about the town that first afternoon was that it was not a fun place to drive. There was one major road through town and several construction zones. The town was very congested and basically not our scene.  The fun things we thought we might do there sorta lost their luster when coupled with the traffic we would have to fight to do them.

The next morning we headed out early to check out the mountains to the east of town. The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest was full of possible boondock sites. We weren’t finding very good intel on the area and wanted to scout it out before hauling the 5th wheel up there.

We stopped at the national forest’s office in town right as they were opening. Each office offers a very detailed map for their forest. Many list every forest road in their division and tell you exactly where you are and are not allowed to camp.

Unfortunately you do have to stop in each individual office to get it. Since the forests are so large, they do not always have offices in a convenient location to our travels. It would be nice if they stocked maps for other nearby forests but that is not the case.

So we drove into the mountains with our map and started checking out the side roads for boondocking sites. We drove down a dozen roads and checked out two national forest campgrounds that were first come first serve. You just never know what you might find.

When we scouted our last site near Flaming Gorge there were tons of existing campsites but most of the roads to them were atrocious. In this area there were miles of very good roads but few existing campsites. It’s frowned upon to make a new campsite and the few places this might have been an option would have required a weed eater at least.

We finally found a feasible option on one of the last roads we checked out, Forest Road 296. There were a half dozen existing sites within sight of the highway. The road was a little rough in the beginning but became impossible after the first quarter mile. We would have liked some vegetation between us and the road but at least we would be some distance off it.

We pulled the trailer up early the next morning and started enjoying our new surroundings. About 5 miles up the highway was Dumont Lake and its campground. We would have liked to have stayed there but there were few suitable sites and all were taken. But it was an easy drive.

It was a very picturesque mountain lake.

Jim wouldn’t pose so I had to.

The wildflowers were extreme.

The mornings in the mountains were quite chilly, around 40 degrees if I remember correctly. So we spent some time driving down the long gravel roads and taking short walks. As soon as the sun was fully up it would warm up quickly though and by mid-morning we were usually shedding several layers.

I was surprised how little wildlife we actually saw. There were plenty of deer of course. Jim swears he saw a big moose in a deep ravine beside the highway early one morning while I was driving. There was no easy place to stop but we kept an eye out the whole weekend and never saw another.

We hiked one morning near that area but didn’t see any sign of moose. It was a beautiful hike nonetheless.

There were signs all over the place that said there were sheep herds in the area and to be cautious of sheepdogs. I guess they are vicious if they feel you are threatening their flock. One morning we saw three sheep some distance away when we turned on to our camp’s road.

We stopped the truck so I could get the telephoto lens out and take some pictures. Instead of running away, they started cautiously running to us. They must equate trucks with being fed.

Before I knew it they were right in front of the truck and allowed me to get pretty darn close to them. It appeared to be a momma and baby brother and sister.

They were so darned cute. When I advanced a bit too close they closed ranks to protect baby sister so I returned to the truck. Later from camp I heard dogs barking and saw more of their flock up the road. I hope they were reunited.

On our last day on the mountain I was determined to hike to the high point in the area, Rabbit Ears Pass. Jim’s feet weren’t up to the task so he dropped me at the trailhead and headed to nearby Dumont Lake to do some fishing.

I wasn’t worried about making this hike alone because I knew it was a fairly well travelled path. I didn’t expect quite as many fellow hikers as there were though. I guess I arrived at prime after Sunday brunch or post church hiking time.

I started the hike surrounded by hikers but soon pulled ahead of the pack. I like to attack a hard trail and get as much distance in as possible while I am still energized. I generally push as hard as I can to reach the end then I take it easy on the return trip. My destination:

Once I was away from the throngs I passed a dozen more hikers but generally had some solitude.

It was 3 miles to the pass and 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The last half mile was the hardest with much of the rise in elevation saved for the finale. The hardest part for me was dealing with the thin air at around 10,000 feet. I pressed on though primarily because I didn’t want all those people catching up to me and hearing how hard I was breathing! LOL

I finally reached the top and paused to catch my breath and take some pics. The rabbit ears themselves were not terribly interesting and too rotten to climb.

But the views were amazing.

Once I had rested a bit I started the relatively easy walk back at a leisurely pace. Jim got bored fishing the crowded lake. He said he almost caught a kayak and a paddleboarder. He hiked a mile and a half out to meet me.

We loved the few days we spent in these mountains. The weather was on the chilly side with lows under 40 and highs of 75. That meant we could enjoy campfires in the middle of the afternoon and wear our much neglected long sleeve wardrobe.

Our site was fairly quiet. There was one spot, about a football field away, that was always occupied by a parade of people. Otherwise we had few neighbors. Our first night, a Friday, a party did erupt just behind us. It started well after our bedtime so we assume it was kids, but we were surprised that we recognized all their music and that it was good. So we really didn’t mind so much!

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

North Rim, Arizona – July, 2017 Once we set our sights on returning to the North Rim this year, I started looking at camping options. They were basically booked through the end of the summer but I checked back every now and then to see if there were any cancellations and I finally saw a spot available for two days right after the July 4th holiday. It wasn’t in the national park campground but in the national forest campground just a few miles outside the park’s gate. We would have preferred a longer stay but I continued to check back and never saw another option.

We made good time getting across the country so when we got to our destination a whole day early we decided to boondock our first night. We had thoroughly researched the area through freecampsites.net, the Days End directory available from Escapees, and on Google maps. We had a couple promising locations scouted out.

Our first choice was my favorite because there was a large pullout at the intersection of the gravel road, Forest Road 257, and Highway 89A. We pulled over and walked what turned out to be two roads leading into the woods. There were plenty of options and we chose a lovely site that was far enough from the highway to significantly reduce road noise.

We never saw another camper and the only traffic on the road was a few forest service trucks going by. It was a little hot until the sun went down without electricity, and therefore AC, but we persevered. The only other downside to this campsite was the flies were occasionally thick.

We were eager to explore the area and see how it compared to the way we remembered it. We set off for the Jacob Lake Inn where we spent that fateful night during our first visit over 20 years ago. It was pretty much how we remembered it except the phone booth is now a closet.

We didn’t really plan to visit the rim that afternoon but we were so excited to finally see it that we made the 45 mile drive anyway. The parking areas were almost full in the early afternoon so we parked some distance from the rim. The lodge sure looked different than I remember, mostly it seemed bigger. But a sign out front confirmed the lodge hadn’t been significantly modified since the 1930’s. The only other difference was that we both clearly remember a large parking lot right next to the lodge and there are rental cabins built there now.

We hurried through the lodge and finally got our first look at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

We then walked down to the viewpoint below it for a good view of the canyon and an even better view of the lodge.

We followed the path under the lodge to more views. I was surprised to see an abundance of lizards. The winters must get awfully long for these cold blooded fellows.

It was HOT and very crowded so we happily called it a day and headed home to enjoy our private camp site.

The next morning we went for a hike in the national forest while we waited for it to be late enough to move to our reserved campsite. After the heat of the last week’s travels, the cool morning at 7900 feet elevation was welcome. The air smelled strongly of the fresh scent of pine and we had the trail to ourselves.

About a mile from the highway we saw a flock of turkey and a herd of deer grazing in the same area. We also saw several Kaibab Squirrel, a very unusual squirrel that only resides on this plateau. It is black with a white tail and fast. I never could catch one in my camera’s sight so I finally swiped a pic from the internet.

After lunch we moved to the Demotte campground which had no hookups and cost $20 per night. The weather was a little more pleasant over the next two days. It still got a bit warm in the afternoons but cooled down by dinnertime instead of by bedtime as it had our first night in the area.

We jumped up the next morning and made the 18 mile drive to the rim before 8 am. We wanted to explore it while it was still cool and before the crowds arrived. It was around 50 degrees when we left camp so I brought a couple layers. But as the sun rose higher it warmed up fast. I chose to start the hike with a light jacket and I shed that pretty quickly.

We headed out to the main lookout near the lodge, Bright Angel Point. It’s a quarter mile hike with some ups and downs but the view is fabulous. As we’d hoped there was only a trickle of people coming and going at that hour.

We then hiked the rim trail. The 2 mile hike was mostly through the woods and the shade was already a welcome relief at 9 in the morning. There was one good viewpoint along the trail that included a bench under the trees.

We hadn’t had a cell signal since entering the park the day before so when our phones started pinging in our pockets we pulled them out and checked all our media outlets, posted a photo or two, and made sure nobody was missing us. Throughout our visit we only got the occasional cell signal on the edge of the canyon. We often found people hanging out at a beautiful viewpoint and talking on the phone. They were usually talking to the office, poor suckers.

After our hike we headed home for lunch. Our plan was to take a scenic drive to another part of the park during the heat of the day. When the time came to leave I wasn’t sure I was up for a two hour adventure but I knew it was quite possible we’d never come back this way so I sucked it up and we hit the road.

It was a 23 mile drive to the end of the scenic Cape Royal Road. It was a curvy, narrow road and the speed limit was 30 but curve after curve often necessitated going much slower. There was only light traffic on the road and it was mostly a joy to drive.

We skipped several pulloffs and drove straight to the end of the road. I was primarily interested in seeing something called Angel’s Window. The trail from the parking lot to the viewpoints was less than a mile round trip. There were plenty of people around but it was nowhere near as congested as it was near the lodge in the afternoon.

The views were amazing!

Angel’s Window is in the middle of that bluff. You can see the Colorado River through it if you zoom in.

Further along the path were more stunning views. Of Vishnu Temple…

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

The views from Cape Royal were way more expansive than at the lodge which was basically the same view from several different vantage points. It was so worth the drive and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it. We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the North Rim and are glad we finally got to actually see it.

Lovers Key State Park

April, 2017 – Fort Myers Beach, FL We were nearing the end of our time in Florida, for this season at least, and there were so many things we hadn’t gotten around to seeing and doing. For one reason or another we had not gone kayaking with our daughter since she arrived, something we expected to do a lot of. And we had not explored a nearby gem of a state park, Lover’s Key. We decided to remedy both those items at the same time one weekday afternoon.

There is a 2.5 mile marked kayak trail through the park’s mangroves. It doesn’t look much different than the area’s rivers.

Even on a weekday it was relatively busy. We set off about the same time as a rowdy group of German twenty-somethings on a variety of water craft; one canoe, a couple paddleboards, and several kayaks. We dawdled a bit until they got out ahead of us.

I discovered this guy drying his wings. I love these creepy looking birds and but I hadn’t gotten a picture of one until now.

Manatee, dolphins, and alligators are wildlife you might spot here. Birds were the only things we saw but we did hear another couple at the launch say they had seen manatee. You’d probably have better luck seeing wildlife earlier in the day.

We later saw this beautiful guy.

If you look at the map of the park it looks like you could just put in and paddle straight to the backside of the beach and walk over to it. Unfortunately that is not the reality here. The put-in drops you into the maze at the middle of this picture.

You could kayak from the mangroves, out into Estero Bay, and eventually out to the ocean and beach. But that would be a very long haul and we had gotten way too late a start to go that far. If your goal is to kayak to a beach you are much better off launching at nearby Big Hickory than here.

We did make it a ways out into Estero Bay. Most of the floats in Florida have a very limited number of places to land so when you find a tiny beach it’s time to stretch your legs. We stopped for a bit then headed back.

Here’s Jim in our new inflatable kayak. When we went kayaking with the kayak club from our RV park, most of those people had this type of kayak. We were impressed with how they handled so we looked into them.

We wanted to try one out for ourselves and see if it might be an alternative to hauling our big kayaks all over the country. This one easily fits in our basement. We also thought it would be great to have 3 kayaks all winter in Florida so we wouldn’t have to rent one when we took our daughter with us.

We found a gently used Sea Eagle 370 on Craigslist and picked it up for only $150. It included deluxe seats which are a must. You can get the same thing on Amazon for about $325 right now. Here’s the view of it from the top.

This Sea Eagle is made for two. In fact, Jim says it handles better when both of us are in it. It carries up to 650 pounds and weighs only 32 pounds.

We are pleased with it so far and plan to keep it. It was perfect for most conditions in Florida and should be great on any lake in the country. We’ll likely use our regular kayaks in Missouri and possibly leave them there for our summer visits.

As for Lover’s Key State Park, it was a great park with a lot more to offer than just the kayak trail. There were hiking and biking trails and you could walk or take a tram to what we are told is an incredible beach. We didn’t have time to visit again before we left Florida but it will be high on out priority list if we return.

Koreshan State Historic Site

Bonita Springs, FL – March, 2017 We had a cold front come through the middle of March and while much of the rest of the country wrestled with winter weather of the white variety, we enjoyed a break from the heat of our Florida winter. On a perfect day with a high of 75 degrees, a slight breeze, and a mostly cloudy sky we chose to visit the state park closest to where we are staying, Koreshan State Historic Site.

The Koreshans were a religious sect that started in New York State around 1880 and spread across the country with chapters in Chicago and San Francisco. They moved their headquarters to Estero, Florida in 1894 to avoid religious persecution. They planned to build a grand city here, a new Jerusalem, built on the principals of community property and celibacy.

At the center of their beliefs was the conviction that the universe existed inside a giant, hollow sphere with the sun and the moon in its center. Here is a representation of the way they saw the universe.

They stayed in tents for several years until they could get their homes built. They never quite accomplished the great city they had planned but they did eventually build a very nice compound. The arts were very important in their society and the entertainment hall was the center of their social lives.

It’s a beautiful, well preserved building.

There were seven prominent women who ran many of the group’s businesses. They lived in this beautiful home.

There were 7 bedrooms which served as the lady’s offices as well.

There was no need for a kitchen as all meals were communal. The woodwork in the home was amazing.

The founder of the religion, Dr. Cyrus R. Reed, had a pretty awesome home as well. I never did find an explanation for the round addition on the side.

Not every member of the sect lived in such luxury. But even their shacks weren’t all that bad.

They were a self-sufficient society with a bakery…

and a woodshop.

These were just a couple of the multitude of businesses operated on their members’ behalves.

They had some extraordinary gardens planned.

But the bridges they built stand out the most.

We enjoyed a nature trail along the Estero River which borders the property and were surprised how clear the water is. We were pleased when we could see a manatee approaching from quite a distance.

The bamboo along the nature trail was awesome. It made a nice wind chime like sound on a windy day.

Koreshan was a great place to spend an afternoon. Admission was only $5 per carload. They have a lot of demonstrations and events. We will likely time a future visit with one of these and/or bring our kayaks with to float the beautiful, clear river. The prior occupants were very interesting to learn about, the property was beautiful, and the walk along the river was entertaining.

We took our daughter and grand-doggy, Sasha, with and the park was very dog friendly.  Of course Sasha wasn’t allowed in any buildings so we took turns looking in them.  We also drove through the campground on our way out.  The sites were nice but close together with only a thin line of vegetation separating them.  But compared to the postage stamp we are renting in our commercial park they were huge.

The whole day we couldn’t help exclaiming often how great the weather was and how pleasant it was to have a break from the hot days we’ve experienced most of this season. We would never complain about the heat but this was a nice intermission from it and was really appreciated. We enjoyed a couple more days of cool weather before the hot days returned.

Sitting

Bonita Springs, FL – January – April, 2017 Since we planned to spend a full six months in one location this winter, Jim and I agreed that it would be wasteful not to try and earn some money. A little extra jingle in your pocket is always nice. We could use the money to supplement our entertainment budget this year and hopefully save a little too.

One of our goals is to explore options for supplementing our income while impacting our lifestyle the least. We want to look beyond the obvious camp hosting, beet farming, Amazon gigs that we’ve all heard about. If you recall, my last experiment in money making was substitute teaching last spring. I hope to find something I enjoy more and that also pays better.

One thing I wanted to try was childcare or possibly senior care. I know it doesn’t sound like the path to a windfall but it can actually pay pretty well these days if you work directly for the client. I was familiar with the Care.com website as I’d used it to hire help in the past. So I decided to create a profile as a caregiver and give it a shot.

I did finally land a sweet gig but several things limited the availability of jobs for me. First, I was honest about only being in Florida for the winter. Many people, even those just wanting a sitter for one night, hope to find someone that they can call on again and count on year round.

Second, I was only willing to work a few days a week at most and required at least three days off in a row every week. There were many jobs for a few hours a day, like after school care, that paid well for 3 or 4 hours of your time but 5 days a week was too much of a commitment. There were also a lot of senior care jobs that wanted you to check in on someone a few hours a day, four or five days a week.

Finally, I wasn’t willing to use our truck to any great extent. I didn’t consider any jobs that required a commute of over 10 miles. I also wouldn’t transport clients. Can you imagine my big truck in a school pickup line? And it is too tall to comfortably transport the elderly.

I applied for a handful of positions, and either was politely declined, or more often never got a response at all. I was contacted by several people looking for care but each time it did not meet my criteria so I politely passed. It’s kind of like dating, looking for the right match, and trying to not let the rejection get to you.

Finally in December I received a message from a couple looking for a nanny for an infant two days a week. The job was only 3 miles from our door. It sounded perfect. I went on an interview and accepted the job.

They needed childcare while one of the parents attended college classes. I agreed to stay in Bonita Springs an extra month until the semester ended. This was not much of sacrifice as we are enjoying our time here very much.

I’m almost exactly halfway through the assignment and I absolutely love it. The couple I work for is extremely nice. All they ask is that I give their child my undivided attention.

When the baby takes a nap I usually clean. They said I didn’t have to do anything but wash bottles and put baby laundry away if I had time. But I don’t feel right doing nothing while the baby sleeps.

Caring for the baby is a joy. I make a couple bottles and spoon baby food into a pudgy little mouth. Mostly I read books, play with blocks and toys, and sing silly songs. We have fun!

Now the important part: What does it pay? I’m getting $15 per hour. I am bringing home double what I did substitute teaching.

I did agree to be 1099’d at the end of the year. This means that I will have to pay self-employment tax on this income. So I will net $12.75 per hour. Not bad for doing something that I love.

I think this experience was a complete success. I expect to get a good recommendation on Care.com from the clients when I’m done. That will help enormously the next time I’m looking for work.

There is a tremendous need for elder care and I will definitely consider that as well. It might not be as fun as playing with a baby but I know it can be rewarding. I put myself through college providing housekeeping and companionship for the elderly.

I definitely think there is potential here for making money in our future. If we had some unexpected expenses and needed to drop anchor somewhere and make hay, I would consider this type of work over, say a retail job. It offers more flexibility and more earnings. I really like that this is something I could do into old age. As long as I am in good health there is no reason I can’t care for others.

So you may wonder what Jim is up to while I am working. Is he a kept man? Far from it! Let’s just say Jim is not sitting on his arse. I will share that story when it is finished.